It will be yet another weekend when the costumes come out in Calgary.
No, it’s not some en masse, bizarro Canada 150 celebration, it’s the annual Otafest conference for anime lovers, which takes place Friday, June 30 to Sunday, July 2.
Many of the 8,000 expected attendees will don the look of their favourite character and head to the Telus Convention Centre for three days of panels, signings, gaming and so much more.
Prior to the event, Otafest Film and Cultural Festival Planning Committee president Stephanie Mok spoke with theYYSCENE.
Q: The event has technically been going since 1999, but has grown into something much, much larger hasn’t it?
A: Yes. In 1999 Otafest was a product of a U of C anime club. So it was really just the club folks getting together and watching anime, which back in 1999 was quite exciting because there was not a lot of anime easily accessible. In ’99 we would watch imported VHS tapes that were fan-dubbed and fansub and things like that. It was a little more rare to get your hands on some cool content, so back in the day and even in the early 2000s it was a little bit more of a film kind of vibe because we were really focusing on promoting the shows themselves or the films themselves, and it was harder to get your hands on stuff back then.
Q: Now take us to today, it’s so much more than that — voice actors, artists, panels.
A: Otafest has sort of evolved into — I like to say it’s an anime convention that celebrates anime and things that anime fans like. (Laughs) So we have voice talent from popular anime shows, we have artists who come and do our show who do popular fan art — they have a large web presence — and a big thing is gamers who livestream on Twitch or on YouTube, so we bring in talent who are involved in the video game side, because most of our favourite video games come from Japan, so we have a lot of folks in that world as well. We have cosplayers, which is a big thing … It’s a big part of our culture here at Otafest, people come just to show off their costume or meet with others who enjoy cosplay, so that’s a huge part of what we do. We bring in Japanese musicians, so we’ve got an indie rock band from Japan called Pingame coming to do a show on Friday night with a couple of other DJs and musical talent accompanying them. So really something for everyone, I would say.
Q: Who are some of the other guests that are coming this year that people might know or should know?
A: If anyone was ever a fan of Sailor Moon back in the day, we do have some of the original voice talent from that show — so that’s exciting for people, especially the nostalgia freaks; the ’90s kids will get a kick out of that. From Japan there is quite famous cosplayer named Reika coming to do some panels and some meet-and-greets with fans — so anyone who is a cosplay junkie would probably be familiar with (her) work. There is also a local artist who has a very large following across the globe. His artist handle is Birdy and he does fan art, primarily of Pokemon and things of that nature, so he has a ton of followers, especially younger folks are into his work. He guested for us a couple of years ago and his panel was absolutely jam-packed so we’re really excited that he’s come back. We have Microsoft and Nintendo both attending our show, so they will be doing some gaming demos for people and hanging out with us.
Q: I know charity is always a part of what Otafest does and this year sounds like one that’s very close to you guys — the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
A: We are 100 per cent volunteer-run, we have no paid staff at all, we’re a non-profit organization and we feel that community and charity are really a part of who we are and our foundation. And we have a volunteer who’s near and dear to us who is currently receiving treatment for cancer at Tom Baker, so when it came to decide our charity that we would like to support we looked to this volunteer and said, “Would this be OK, would you like us to do that?” and they were honoured for us to select that charity and of course we’re happy to support them. They will actually not be at our event as they have to spend some time at the centre while we’re putting the show on and I know that this volunteer would love to be with us, so we’re really going to be thinking about them.
Since our inception we’ve raised just over $90,000 for charity, so we’re hoping to break that $100,000 mark this year for Canada 150 and our big show. So we’re hoping that we’ll be able to break that number and give a $10,000 gift to Tom Baker. That’s our goal, so hopefully we’ll get there.
Q: You mentioned it: Canada 150. Do you have anything special planned for that?
A: Again we’re really going hard on charity work for Canada 150, especially as part of the Three Things for Canada (initiative) that we’ve been working on. We do have the Japanese Consulate-General who will be presenting a couple of special awards at our show, for Canada’s 150 and our relationship with Japan … And then we have for the first time ever 24-hour, overnight content (on Friday and Saturday). So guests who come to Otafest who are really the diehard nerds that stay up all night binge-watching anime and playing games can do that at our show this year. We decided that for the first time ever to have that, so that will be a draw. (Laughs) I think our team is looking at each other like, “What were we thinking?” but there you go. That should be good fun as well.
Otafest runs June 30 to July 2 at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre. For tickets and more information go to otafest.com.